Menno Simmons publicly renounced his Roman Catholic faith from his pulpit on January 30, 1536.
The Anabaptists were in a mess. Thomas Munzer had led the movement into fanatical extremes. His so-called visions led to excesses in behaviour and doctrine.
This was one branch of the Protestant Reformation surely destined to sink into oblivion, so it seemed. And the sooner the better!
But, as usual, God had a man – a man courageous enough to renounce the “ease and security of his priestly post” (History of Christianity, by K. Latourette, page 784). His name was Menno Simmons, and persecution came his way … with a vengeance!
Born in 1496 to dairy farmers in Witmarsum, Holland, young Menno proved to be an excellent Latin scholar. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1524, at the age of 28. However his life was unregenerate, including drinking and card playing.
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He was prompted to question church doctrines following reading a book about believers’ baptism being the only baptism found in the New Testament. The execution of a Dutch tailor who had been re-baptised as an adult further motivated his enquiries. He came to the conclusion that baptism as a believer was the lynch-pin of a person’s faith and discipleship.
These new beliefs caused him to quit the Roman church in 1536, become re-baptised and re-ordained. Thus he lived for the next quarter century with a price on his head. His stand not only offended the Catholic faith but the Reformed churches as well. This form of Radical Reformation was devoid of the political protection which earlier reformers could establish.
The term Anabaptist comes from the Greek prefix ‘ana’, meaning ‘again’. Their core beliefs were that each person must achieve a personal, self-conscious salvation, which is attested to by a transformed life that displays holiness. They rejected the Reformed concept of predestination, putting emphasis instead on man’s free-will choice.
Simmons fled from place to place seeking refuge, preaching and writing as he went.
His followers became known as Mennonites (the most numerous of the various Anabaptist groups), and in Canada and America today a substantial number are still to be found. In time they were chased out of Holland, Switzerland and Germany, finding temporary refuge in Russia. From there they fled to the New World where their presence is retained.
Menno Simmons “deserves a higher rank among the reformers than is often accorded him by writers of Church History,” says Elgin Moyer (Great Leaders, Moody Press, page 360).
It was this man who conserved all that was good in the Anabaptist movement and organised it into a group of believers still with us to this day.
He died in his own home, of natural causes, on 31 January, 1561, aged 66.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com